The only word to describe the Isaiah Thomas-less Boston Celtics’ 111-108 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers is simply “stunning”. After being embarrassed on their home court in the first two games of the series, the undermanned Celtics rallied from a 21-point deficit on Sunday to hand the Cavs their first loss of the postseason. Although this victory primarily serves as a delaying of the inevitable, there are a few noteworthy takeaways in the unlikely upset.
The Celtics can’t like their chances very much without a healthy Thomas, but the win surely is a nice feather in the team’s cap. Brad Stevens’ club got a major boost from Marcus Smart (the worst shooter to ever go 7-10 from three in a playoff game?), and the continued emergence of Avery Bradley is increasingly fun to watch. Jonas Jerebko – who barely played against Washington – recorded a plus-22 in just 13 minutes on the court. The victory also marks the first time that a squad with Al Horford on the roster has defeated a LeBron James-led team in the postseason.
The outcome really just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the Celtics will take anything after being absolutely outclassed twice in TD Garden. At least they have one more chance to give their home crowd something to cheer for.
Cleveland has had rough patches defensively all season long, and that hasn’t changed much during their impressive postseason run. It started with the Cavs allowing the inferior Indiana Pacers to hang around during their series — a series in which Cleveland swept but still had three games decided by six points or less. With a team that started the postseason with ten straight victories, critiquing their play can be viewed as nitpicking. However, Cleveland’s defensive woes were fully apparent in their loss on Sunday.
Of course, the Cavs are a great team led by one of the NBA’s all-time great players. With that said, Boston found ways to expose their average defense without the aid of their top-scorer. For one, the Celtics’ outside shot began to fall. Cleveland is shooting a blistering 43-percent from three in the postseason – as James has been spectacular at distributing the ball to the Cavs’ shooters throughout their recent run. Teams that want any chance of keeping up on the scoreboard have to hit their outside shots – a major reason why Toronto fared so poorly against the defending champions.
Boston also found success by taking better care of the ball. The Celts tallied 35 turnovers through the first two games in Boston, and only recorded 9 on Sunday. This helped Boston attempt 21 more field goals than Cleveland, and also prevented the Cavs from getting easy baskets in transition. The Cavs were 28th in the league in forcing turnovers during the regular season. If opponents take care of the ball against them, they will eventually break Cleveland’s half-court defense.
It also doesn’t hurt that LeBron had his worst game of the playoffs by a mile. The King recorded zero points in the fourth quarter, and tallied just 11 for the game, breaking his streak of consecutive 30-point performances. Both teams can’t expect James to play that poorly too often.
With just one day off in between each game for the rest of the series, the Cavs will have to put this game behind them if they want any sort of momentum heading into the NBA Finals. Boston will have to take it one game at a time if they hope to pull off a miraculous comeback in this series.
Fans have clamored for more drama in this postseason, and Boston finally delivered. With Game 4 in Cleveland on Tuesday, we’ll see if the Celts have any more “Luck of The Irish” in them.
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